Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson gave his first State of Downtown Address on Thursday at Downtown Dallas Inc.’s Fall Membership Forum at the Omni Dallas Hotel.
His speech fleshed out many of the ways he was proud of the growth in the downtown sector, while also touching on the ways it can still grow.
“What defines Dallas and sets us apart from neighboring cities is that we have a dynamic urban core…that’s why it was important to me that we maintain and accelerate in the coming years the momentum we have experienced in downtown Dallas,” said Johnson. “If there is one message you take from this luncheon today, it is that you have some very strong allies on your new city council, allies who want to work with you to continue to improve downtown Dallas.”
During a press conference to discuss the city's budget on Sept. 17 at City Hall, Johnson and multiple members of the city council spoke highly of the 2019-2020 fiscal budget for its move to offer competitive salaries for both police and fire fighters. The council believes this change in compensation will help increase the low morale among the police force. The budget also will reduce the property tax rate.
The budget is both the first major piece of legislation from this council and the first Dallas budget since 2014 that the entire city council voted for unanimously.
“With the budget done, I’m even more excited for what’s next as my first year as your mayor, which will include many issues that affect downtown Dallas,” said Johnson.
Johnson said downtown has a special place in his heart given the ten or so years he lived there while he was practicing law. Additionally, Johnson said he was one of the first to adopt the downtown Dallas lifestyle.
Living downtown when Johnson did was not as normalized as it is now. Now, the area is very different, adding and maintaining retail, restaurants, museums and more, making it more like other thriving downtown sectors.
Johnson said that it is remarkable for him to see how much downtown Dallas has changed.
"I liked downtown very much then, but I can say there is a lot more energy downtown now,” said Johnson.
In 1996, only 200 people lived in downtown Dallas; now there are nearly 12,000 residents, according to Johnson.
According to Downtown Dallas Inc., there has been a 500 percent increase in the number of downtown residents in the past 20 years.
“I know that’s one thing to get people to come downtown to see all these great things, but it’s quite another to get them to stay downtown and call it home. Downtown has very much so become more than just a place…now it is more of a neighborhood,” said Johnson.
Currently, downtown Dallas has various types of residents living in a variety of types of households surrounded by parks and other communal spaces.
The most recent addition of communal spaces is the soon-to-be-opened Pacific Plaza, which was originally a parking lot. Johnson mentioned the plaza and said there are three similar projects in the works.
“These communal spaces will help us stitch together our urban landscape,” the mayor said.
In tandem with residents moving to downtown has been the movement of companies – the most recent being Uber and the thousands of jobs they plan to bring.
“Downtown has been a great place to work,” said Johnson. “But it is becoming an even better place to do business.”
Johnson pointed to Dallas’s large tech work force and its urban center as decisive aspects for companies moving to downtown.
While Johnson was proud of the strides downtown Dallas is making, with major projects like the AT&T Discovery District and the revitalization happening in both East and Southside, he still sees a lot of room to grow.
One of the foremost issues that was brought up was workforce development. Johnson said he wants those, especially those living in the southern part of the city, to be a part of the prosperous downtown sector.
“I want more children, kids, more of the kids in our school districts, kids who grew up in Oak Cliff, West Dallas and other tough neighborhoods in our city and kids who grew up like I did…to see downtown as not some plexiglass jungle but as a place that can welcome them. A place where they can succeed,” said Johnson. “We have buildings downtown that touch the sky, and I want our kids to aspire to do the same.”
Within this, Johnson said he wants to invest in Dallas residents instead of relying on importing talent with the growing tech industry downtown. While this will be challenging for the community, Johnson sees as the right thing to do for Dallas residents.
For downtown-specific problems, Johnson spoke about how downtown Dallas and its residents face challenges to address homelessness and how the rapid pace of development has caused problems navigating the region.
Currently, only 13 percent of those living downtown take DART and 15 percent walk to work. Johnson wants to see those numbers rise and for Dallas to become more walkable.
“We have to make downtown Dallas more walkable, more livable and more inhabitable. That’s the commitment I make to you today, and I believe the budget we passed yesterday…will help keep Dallas safe and help provide services that are vital to our cities equitable growth," said Johnson.
"I ran for mayor for Dallas because I wanted to help solve these problems. As long as I am at City Hall, I will work my hardest to strengthen Dallas neighborhoods and abide for equity for those who haven’t shared in our cities property," Johnson said later in his address. "It’s not just an aspiration of mine; it’s actually a necessity for our city. Cities are the engines that drive our country, and our downtowns are the engines that drive our cities, which means your issues are Dallas’ issues.”
Mayor Johnson ended the address reinforcing his point that the city council is here for Dallas long-term sustainability, growth and will be working hard to have Dallas’s best interest at heart.